In honor of Black History Month, we continue to recognize the economic, cultural, political, and social contributions of influential black immigrants and refugees who’ve helped shape the vibrant tapestry of America. Today we spotlight musician and philanthropist Wyclef Jean.
Musician, producer, and philanthropist Wyclef Jean is known for his music and his work to elevate the impoverished Caribbean nation of Haiti.
Born in Croix des Bouquets, Haiti, Jean’s parents immigrated to the U.S., leaving him and his brother to be raised by relatives. At nine years old, both joined their parents in Brooklyn’s Marlborough projects before moving to New Jersey in their teenage years. Jean initially studied music at Five Town College in New York before dropping out to concentrate on his rapping. He would soon team up and perform with Lauren Hill and Pras Michel before the trio gained international fame, winning two Grammy awards, including best rap album in 1997. The album, The Score, innovated the hip-hop genre by combining Jean’s high school jazz education and reggae-inspired from his native Haiti. It sold over 18 million copies. Jean went on to carve out his solo career, performing alongside, writing, and producing for a myriad of high-profile artists, including Carlos Santana, Shakira, and Whitney Houston. Jean has won three Grammy awards, an MTV music award, and was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame.
In 1998, Wyclef Jean founded the Wyclef Jean Foundation, later known as the Yéle Haiti Foundation, to raise money, promote education, and launch programs to help victims of poverty in Haiti. The foundation has partnered with Together for Haiti, the United Nations, and the World Food Foundation to assist the nation with food distribution and job creation. Additionally, the foundation has provided thousands of scholarships for Haiti students. Jean has been honored with Humanitarian awards by both BET and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).